The Power of Local: Looking Back on 2014 with Brad Kent

It’s hard not to be both retrospective and introspective at the end of any year, but as I write my final column as president of Laurel Main Street, I find myself pondering my last two years of service to this great organization.

All good things must come to an end, so it’s time for me to pass this baton and welcome new blood and fresh ideas to the leadership position. If there’s one sure thing about the state of historic downtown Laurel, and of Laurel Main Street, it’s that the future is very bright!

I will be the first to tell you that this doesn’t have a lot to do with the job that I have done, but more to do with a collective community effort to make the most of our great town. The success of any main street organization rests firmly in that organization’s ability to generate consensus and make downtown revitalization a community priority.

The success of Laurel Main Street is due to our awesome Executive Director Judi Holifield, the Laurel Main Street Board of Directors, and the dozens of volunteers. Most importantly, it’s due to the public and private financial support that allows this great organization to develop a strategy and execute a mission.

Clear signs of progress

In the past several years Laurel Main Street has seen a tremendous increase in funding through individual and business memberships, as well as corporate partnerships. This past October marked a landmark moment in our organization’s young history with a significant public funding increase that came from City and County government.

Just take a walk around downtown Laurel and note the immense changes that have occurred over the past 7 years.The funding flowing through Laurel Main Street results in a return for its investors.

Sure, we all know that building improvements lead to property taxes and occupied store fronts lead to sales taxes. These hard figures are undeniable, but the real return is paid to the community at large.

There’s an old saying that the downtown is the heart of a community. If the downtown (or the heart) is healthy, then the community is healthy. There’s a much larger economic impact to a community with a vibrant downtown.

I truly believe that we are living in the midst of a major turnaround of our historic town, and the ripple effect will be felt throughout all of Jones County and beyond for years to come.

Preparing for a bright future

The future is indeed very bright and the collective investment in Laurel Main Street will continue to generate a return.

View a slideshow of the great things happening in Downtown Laurel

 

2015 will bring about the official opening of the Laurel Welcome Center in the old First National Bank Building, which is already home to the Lindsey Wagon.

Laurel Main Street’s Façade and Amenities Grant Program will continue, and hopefully fund new projects to improve and beatify downtown buildings. Laurel Main Street is now dedicating 25% of all profits from events to a façade grant fund, so that these profits have a direct impact on visible improvements of buildings. There’s no greater example of this than the new mural that is in progress now at the Laurel-Jones County Library.

Also, look for enhancements in all of Laurel Main Street’s signature events such as the Downtown Chili Cook-off, Summer Entertainment Series, Farmer’s Market, Touch A Truck and Loblolly Festival.

Last but certainly not least, 2015 should be the year that the Beacon Street Gateway project finally gets put into action with construction slated to begin in early 2016. This should prove to have the most impact on downtown Laurel than anything that has occurred in decades.

The next step

In closing, if there is one lesson I have learned over the past few years it’s what I call the “power of local”. Working locally, serving locally, investing locally, and buying locally is incredibly important to a small community. One person can truly make a difference, but many working together toward the same goal can have an exponentially greater impact. I urge you to support historic downtown Laurel any way you can, and I promise that you will see a return on your investment.

I would like to thank everyone that I had the pleasure of working with at Laurel Main Street over the past few years. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as your president, and humbled by the experience.

Written by Keri Rowell

Keri is a member of the Laurel Main Street Board of Directors and the Promotions Committee Chair. She has been involved with Laurel Main Street since high school, and owns a small business in Downtown Laurel.